Britons are Europe’s biggest spenders on meals on-the-go; in 2004, British consumers spent a total of £7.2bn (US$12.5bn) on on-the-go food and drinks, according to new research.

This represents an average of £120 per person per year – almost four times as much as their Spanish counterparts, said the new report from independent market analyst Datamonitor.

Germany and Italy came a distant second with £66 and £57 respectively. Datamonitor forecasts total spend in the UK to grow a further 15% to £8.3bn in 2009.

“On-the-go consumption is growing as consumers take an increasingly functional attitude to eating. They feel forced to adapt their eating habits in order to fit in work, family and leisure commitments, and eating on-the-go offers this flexibility,” said Matthew Adams, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor and author of the report. 

Over two-thirds of European consumers surveyed by Datamonitor agreed they felt they had less leisure time than previously, as work continues to eat away at leisure time. This makes striking an acceptable work-life balance even more important. With increased time spent on work and leisure activities within the day, one of the easiest ways of optimising time is to skip meals or to eat on-the-go while multi-tasking or while on-the-move between activities such as during the commute to work. Average time taken for lunch in the UK now stands at less than 30 minutes.

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Skipping breakfast more common among UK consumers

UK consumers are particularly prone to skipping breakfast despite campaigns from food manufacturers stressing its nutritional importance. British skip on average 113 breakfasts a year per person, and Datamonitor forecasts this will increase to almost 120 in 2009. By comparison, Europeans miss on average 71 breakfasts a year per person.

Greater demand for healthy proposition

While convenience is obviously a huge driver, consumers still want to take a more balanced approach to eating on-the-go, realising the need to combine convenience with healthier fare. According to a Datamonitor survey, two thirds of women and over 40% of men in Europe feel they cannot find healthy on-the-go meal products often enough. Higher prices, insufficient variety, lack of practicality and a compromise on taste are the other main barriers to consumers eating more healthily on-the-go. 

Therefore, manufacturers must improve convenience while adding added health functionality to their products. Good examples of this include smoothies, prepared salads and upscale soups. The last two of these product examples were cited by Pret a Manger recently as key reasons for a rise in their sales over the summer months of 2005.

To find out more about “The future of Eating meals on-the-go”, or to buy the report, click here.